Christmas Gift Ideas: Big Books for Big Catholic Thinkers

Oh my gosh, Christmas is coming, and Amazon says you’ve only got four days to order with regular shipping and receive your gifts in time for Christmas.  I keep promising more book suggestions, and this time I want to recommend a few weighty tomes for the person who wants to know more, much more about his Catholic faith.

The Encyclopedia of U.S. Catholic History by Matthew Bunson and Margaret Bunson.  Published by Our Sunday Visitor Press, this book is a treasure trove of information about the Catholic Church in America.  You probably won’t pick this book up and read its 1004 pages from cover to cover.  What you’ll do, though, is keep it close at hand and stop by whenever you need information.  There is a lengthy Chronology of U.S. Catholic History.  Its appendices offer a comprehensive overview of Missionaries to the Americas, Saints of the Americas, Catholics in Statuary Hall, and the Cathedrals, Basilicas and Shrines in the United States.  Dioceses and Archdioceses, Popes and Bishops, cathedrals and shrines, Catholic newspapers and religious orders are profiled.  And just a taste of the A-Z Entries:  Don’t you really want to know more about the California missions, the Catholic Worker Movement, the Know-Nothings, Knute Rockne, Clarence Thomas, and labor leader William George Meany?  There’s so much here.  There’s just so much!  Someone you know would really love this important resource.

Just released by Princeton University Press, Robert Bartlett’s Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things?: Saints and Worshippers from the Martyrs to the Reformation.  I’ve only begun to finger the pages of this heavily-indexed resource.  Drawing on sources from around the Christian world, Robert Bartlett examines all of the most important aspects of the saints—including miracles, relics, pilgrimages, shr ines, and the saints’ role in the calendar, literature and art.  This sweepingly ambitious history from one of the world’s leading medieval historians tells the fascinating story of the cult of the saints from its origins in the second-century days of the Christian martyrs to the Protestant Reformation.

As this engaging narrative shows, a wide variety of figures have been venerated as saints:  men and women, kings and servant girls, legendary virgins and highly political bishops….  At once deeply informative and entertaining, this is an unmatched account of an immensely important and intriguing part of the religious life of the past—as well as the present.  Here are stories which will feed my writing in the months and years to come.

Dictionary of Saints by John J. Delaney (Doubleday) has been in my library for years—it was originally published in 1980.  It is immensely interesting, though, and offers a good (albeit brief) summary of the life of each saint.  Search for a particular saint according to the Roman calendar or the Byzantine calendar.  Check out the very helpful Chronological Chart of Popes and World Rulers.  Find your patron saint by name, or according to your field of endeavor (baker, choirboy, editor, florist, dysentery sufferer, pharmacist…)  Find saints who are patrons for particular countries or regions, and find their symbols in art.


Heart of Catholicism: Essential Writings of the Church from St. Paul to John Paul II is also not a newcomer to my library.  It was compiled and edited by Theodore E. James, Ph.D. and published by Our Sunday Visitor.

The book offers first-hand documents from the classical beginnings of the Church (Scriptures, letters from the apostles, from St. Clement and St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Polycarp, and more) to the early clarification of Church teachings (Justin Martyr, Tatian, Theophilus, Clement of Alexandria, Cyprian and more).  Key documents rejecting the false teachings of Arius and other unorthodox beliefs are covered (the Nicene Creed, St. Athanasius, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Basil the Great, St. John Chrysostom and more).  The work continues through philosophical perspectives and basic mysticism, through the present day.  The reader will hear from St. Francis de Sales, St. John of the Cross, G.K. Chesterton, John Henry Cardinal Newman, St. Therese of Lisieux, Pope Leo XIII, and others, culminating in Pope John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor.  How can you not love this work?

Dangers to the Faith: Recognizing Catholicism’s 21st Century Opponents.  As much as I’ve depended on the wisdom and insights of my friend Al Kresta, I haven’t yet told you about this, his most important book to date.  Dangers to the Faith is a slimmer volume than the others in this list, but it, too, is a treasure trove of essential information.  Kresta considers opponents such as the New Age and Reincarnation, Scientism and Relativism, Secularism and Consumerism.  He describes opponents with competing worldviews such as Islam and Atheism.  And Kresta’s exhaustive endnotes provide plenty of fodder for future research.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X